Names and Faces

SleepI see your face
I know it
I remember your name
and all the meetings we had across the desk in the back office
or over Tim Hortons
and the walks we took into town to do things like
renew your service card
and the walks back
Back to what?
You’re still here, on the street

I run into you on the sidewalk one day
You have a job!
You once told me that you had only two emotions:
But right now you seem joyous
even exuberant
You have your child back and a safe apartment to live in
I’m so glad you stopped me to tell me

I don’t remember your name
But I do remember your face
and I remember your story
How could I forget?
You trusted me with your trauma
and I hope that I was able to hold it for you
even for a little while
You’ve had a rough life
I pray that things have gotten better
but when I see you on the street I fear they haven’t

You popped into my new office
at the church
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in a church before
and I am really sorry that I wasn’t there that day
I love catching up every time I run into you

I remember your name –
oh do I ever. We spent a lot of time talking –
and I remember your child’s name
I have seen the two of you walking downtown
(he has grown a lot!)
and so I wonder
how things are going now…
Are you back together?
Have you gotten clean like you wanted to?
How is school going?
But your eyes slide across my face without recognition
so I don’t stop you to ask

I see your faces
all of them
I wish I could remember all of your names –
though maybe that is more about me wishing I could do more
than remember
and pray
and hope




I did some writing last summer, though not for school.

One piece that I wrote over the summer is getting published in a book this spring! Its a short essay I wrote that is, essentially, a theological reflection on the work I used to do in emergency shelters in BC. It will be published in the book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor which is set to come out mid April (though the amazon page says mid-May).

The book has come out of a community of women who’s wisdom I have appreciated, the Rev Gal Blog Pals. I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting some of them as we get closer to publication. I’m also really looking forward to reading everyone’s essays in the book!

You can see more about it on the Publisher’s page (Skylight Paths Publishing), or on Amazon.

I’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available about its publication date and so on.

Encounters at home

It was an ordinary day on my recent visit home to Victoria. Midmorning on a weekend, walking up a less-busy downtown street, enjoying the smells and sights of home after nearly eight months away.

I didn’t tell many people I was in Victoria. It was a short visit and I was on limited time. But suddenly I heard my name yelled out. Yelled.

Unsure if it was me (but how many Gillians are there?!) I turned to see where the call was coming from. And then I saw him, one of my former clients from the shelter, running across the street. He reached me on the other sidewalk, picked me up and swung me around in a giant hug and, as he set me down started to talk.

He’d just moved into his own apartment – first one since transitional housing at the shelter. He was doing really well and was really excited about life … and he just wanted to tell me that since he hadn’t seen me for awhile.

I was smiling for the rest of the day.


Homelessness Action Week

Today’s Friday Photo is brought to you by Homelessness Action Week.

This is the first year that I can actually say with confidence that I am on a first-name basis with many of the homeless in our city. I had that brought home twice last week. On one occasion, I was sitting in the atrium of the Public Library and two of our clients at the shelter walked by. I knew both of their names and have had interactions with both of them. One of them, I knew something of her story and we’ve talked on a slightly deeper than surface level about the joys and pains of family. On the other occasion, I stopped to get a coffee at the 7-11 (pretty much the only place serving coffee that is open after 10pm on a Friday night) when a young fellow on a bench caught my eye and said hello. My attention had been grabbed by one of his companions, a girl who didn’t look like she could be more than 16 or 17 with a sign saying she was pregnant and needed money. I didn’t know the girl, but I knew him. I knew his name and where he was staying. We’ve talked a few times and he seems like a fun kid who has had his innocence taken away by living on the street and in a homeless shelter.

I don’t know if it is possible to classify a “most tragic” case of homelessness, but the one that always gets me is the working poor. I see so many people who have no mental illness and no addiction issues but, for whatever reason, cannot get together enough money to hold down a place to live. It really sucks to see them on the street or in the shelter. These are the people who are participating members of society and yet they do not get enough back to be able to have a place to live.

Sunday Evening

I was walking through downtown after dropping someone off at the ferry terminal. I decided I needed a coffee, and so hit up a favourite place on the edge of Chinatown. From there, it is only a couple blocks to a bus stop where the bus that drops me practically at my front door stops.

As I walked through the square, I noticed a crowd of people gathering under an overhang. Not yet close enough to see what it was, I initially thought it was the Sunday market gone into overtime. As I drew closer, I saw that it was something else entirely. I began to suspect it was CARTS as I started to recognize some of the individuals standing around. It was interesting to see clients I am used to seeing at the Shelters in another context entirely.

I continued on to the bus stop, wondering if I should say hi. Obviously that would be weird and a complete breach of confidentiality, so I did not. Some of the individuals drifted over to the bus stop and loitered for a while before crossing Douglas St to another part of town. Others I have seen since, wandering around town. Many do not recognize me from shift to shift at the shelter, so I am not sure why I think they might recognize me outside of the shelter. If they did recognize me, I don’t think that would make any difference to how I reacted. Once again, however, I am struck by how thin the line is that separates me from them.